We went into the Iraq War on the cheap. We entered that war with the smallest number of troops possible. So, that lead to the US relying on private security firms for a number of missions. One such mission was providing security for the diplomats. Four Blackwater security personnel were found guilty last week after they killed 17 Iraqi civilians. One was found guilty of murder. The others were found guilty of manslaughter. See CBS news report. The guards opened fire on a crowded Baghdad street intersection after they claim to have heard shots fired.
I was not impressed with Blackwater when I was in Iraq. They moved into our building on FOB Speicher. Ignoring the appropriate chain-of-command, they began to erect exterior stairs without first seeking permission from any authority. They were forced to stop work on the stairs mid-way through the project. Later, when someone from my staff section was checking something on the roof, they found that Blackwater had tapped into our internet feed – again without seeking permission or consent.
Even for uniformed soldiers, with good training ad supervision, it is hard to never shoot an unarmed civilian in that sort of war. Young soldiers, or unclear situations can lead to accidents. For mercenaries, the challenge is much different.
Service in a war zone is not too different than a trip to Las Vegas. It is tempting to slip into the "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" syndrome. Not only are you far from home, but you feel a lot of power when you hold that .50 caliber machine gun in your hands. The mercenary soldiers feel the same things, apparently, and feel little of the discipline required of uniformed soldiers. We can contract out guns and vehicles. But, contracting out good order and discipline is much more difficult.